Sunday, May 31, 2015

Some Facts about the 12 Steps of A.A., the Supposed Six Steps, and “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (Later Also Known As “The Oxford Group”)

Some Facts about the 12 Steps of A.A., the Supposed Six Steps, and “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (Later Also Known As “The Oxford Group”) 

By Ken B. (based, in part, on research by Dick B.)
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved

A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob met each other for the first time at the Seiberling Gate Lodge in Akron on Mother's Day, May 12, 1935. Dr. Bob stated in his last major talk given in Detroit in December 1948: 

When we [A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob] started in on Bill D. [“Alcoholic Anonymous Number Three,” Akron attorney Bill D.], we had no Twelve Steps . . . we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book.[1] 

And about those early days of A.A. and the origins of the Twelve Steps, Dr. Bob also stated in his last major talk: 

We [A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob] already had the basic ideas [of the Twelve Steps], though not in terse and tangible form. We got them, as I said, as a result of our study of the Good Book.”[2] 

In contrast to Dr. Bob’s statements about the Twelve Steps quoted above, Bill W. made a number of statements through the years claiming that he had derived the Twelve Steps from an earlier set of “six steps” which made up what he called “the word-of-mouth program.”[3] In fact: (1) some statements mention only five items, not six; (2) the wording of the items varied from one statement to the next—particularly when it came to God’s role in the “program;” (3) the source(s) of the five or six items varied from one statement to the next; and (4) the five or six items were not consistently called “steps.” They were also called “principles,” “practices,” and “elements.”[4] 

As Bill W.’s wife Lois—who kept a diary—wrote on page 111 of her memoir, Lois Remembers, Bill did not begin writing the first two chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book”) until around May 1938. The March 1, 2014, version of “A Narrative Timeline of AA History” indicates that Bill didn't write the Twelve Steps found in chapter five of the Big Book (“How It Works”) until early December 1938. [; accessed 5/31/2015]. 

There has also been a myth floating around the rooms of A.A. that the (supposed) “six steps” of early A.A. came from “six steps” in “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (which was later also known as “the Oxford Group”).[5] In fact, there were no “six Steps” in the Oxford Group. As the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book ‘PASS IT ON’ states: “There is no evidence that the Oxford Group had such a specific program.”[6] As to the connection between “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (also known as “the Oxford Group”) and Alcoholics Anonymous (and its Twelve Steps), The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works! by Dick B. remains the definitive work on that topic.[7] 

One confirmation of Dr. Bob’s emphasis on the Bible—which he often referred to as “the Good Book”—both as the source for the answers to the problems of the early A.A. pioneers (such as alcoholism!), and for the basic ideas of the Twelve Steps, may be seen in Frank Amos’s seven-point summary of the original Akron A.A. program as of February 1938—about 14 months prior to the publication of Alcoholics Anonymous in April 1939. The Amos summary, included in a report that was sent to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is quoted in the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers: 

1.      An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.  

2.      He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.  

3.      Not only must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him. 

4.      He must have devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.  

5.      He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.  

6.      It is important, but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.  

7.      Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once weekly.[8] 

Note the reference to “God” in item number two—not to a “higher power”; not to “a power greater than ourselves;” and not to “God as we understood Him.” And note the reference to the reading of the Bible in item number four. 

As DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers points out about A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob’s emphasis on the Bible in the original Akron A.A. program:  

“([A.A. cofounder] Dr. Bob was always positive about his faith, Clarence [S., founder of A.A.'s third group in the world in Cleveland] said. If someone asked him a question about the program, his usual response was: ‘What does it say in the Good Book?'”[9] 

A.A. claimed for its early years a 75% success rate: 

Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement.[10] 

If you would like to see that success rate, and even the documented 93% success rate among people in early Cleveland A.A. who never took a drink again(!), my dad (Dick B.) and I suggest you “stick with the winners!” Stick with people such as A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob, whom Bill W. called “the prince of all twelfth-steppers” because of the 5,000 alcoholics he helped recover between 1940 and 1950 (in the company of Sister Ignatia);[11] and with Clarence S., who founded A.A.’s third group in the world in Cleveland on May 11, 1939. 

Gloria Deo

[1] “The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks” (Item # P-53), 13:
[2] “The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous,” 14.
[3] See, for example: Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 160-61.
[4] For the most thorough review of the various discussions by Bill W., by Lois W., and in a personal story in the Big Book, see: Dick B. and Ken B., “‘The Word-of-Mouth Program’/‘Six Steps’ of Bill W.”:; accessed 5/31/2015.
[5] According to Garth Lean, author of the definitive biography of Lutheran minister Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman: “In the autumn of 1922, . . . Buchman and a few friends formed what they called ‘A First Century Christian Fellowship.’ ‘It is,’ declared Buchman in a note to a supporter, ‘a voice of protest against the organized committeeised and lifeless Christian work’ and ‘an attempt to get back to the beliefs and methods of the Apostles.’” [Source: Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: a Life (London: Constable, 1985), 97. This book was released in the U.S. with the title: On the Tail of a Comet]. It wasn't until September of 1928 that the press in South Africa—not the group's founder Dr. Buchman or anyone else in the group itself—applied the label “the Oxford Group” to anyone in the group. Lean writes: “The visit [to South Africa in the summer of 1928 of the group of students from Oxford University] had one unexpected side-effect. Almost from the outset, the newspapers - seeking for a simple catch-phrase to describe them - labelled them 'the Oxford Group'.* The story is told that a sleeping-car attendant, seeking for a name to put on their compartment, used the phrase for the group of young men who only had Oxford in common - and that the press meeting them picked it up. The name stuck because it so exactly described the party. Francis Goulding - a St John's graduate, by then working full-time with Buchman - remembers him receiving the news that this name was being generally used: 'He wasn't enthusiastic, but he said, ‘If it's got to be called something, that's as good as anything.’” [Source: Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life, 138].
‘PASS IT ON’ states: “In the late 1930’s, Dr. Bob, co-founder of A.A., and the other Akron, Ohio, AAs continued to refer to it [the group] in that way [i.e., as “A First Century Christian Fellowship”]. See 'PASS IT ON,' 130.
When Harvey Firestone, Sr., invited Dr. Buchman—out of appreciation for the help Rev. Sam Shoemaker (a ‘chief lieutenant’ of the Oxford Group in America) had provided to Firestone's son Russell in helping Russell overcome alcoholism in 1931—to do a series of meetings in Akron, Ohio, in January 1933, the name “A First Century Christian Fellowship” was on the invitations that were circulated (which my dad, Dick B., personally saw during his research in Akron in the 1990s). See, for example: Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 17-18:
[6] PASS IT ON,’ 197. See also the footnote on page 206 of ‘PASS IT ON.’
[7] Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works:
[8] DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 131.
[9] DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 144.
[10] From “Foreword to Second Edition” in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., xx.
[11] The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 34.

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